William H. Calvin and George A. Ojemann's CONVERSATIONS WITH NEIL'S BRAIN (Postscript)
Home Page || Public Bookmarks || Science Surf magazine || Table of Contents
Conversations with Neil’s Brain
The Neural Nature of Thought & Language
Copyright  1994 by William H. Calvin and George A. Ojemann.

You may download this for personal reading but may not redistribute or archive without permission (exception: teachers should feel free to print out a chapter and photocopy it for students).

William H. Calvin, Ph.D., is a neurophysiologist on the faculty of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Washington.

George A. Ojemann, M.D., is a neurosurgeon and neurophysiologist on the faculty of the Department of Neurological Surgery, University of Washington.


A great many patients are represented in this book, usually through a question they asked or a concern they expressed. Some were the patients undergoing operations such as Neil’s, who contributed much knowledge through their cooperation. We thank them all for their contributions to our understanding of the difficult issues concerning the relationship between brain and mind with which this book has been concerned.
      The book is hardly comprehensive. “A personal selection” is closer to the truth, and the selection was considerably biased by the problems of constructing a story suitable for general readers. Our editor, William Patrick, was of great help in steering us to the narrative voice which we finally adopted. We must also thank our colleagues who helped straighten us out on various matters: Katherine Graubard, Linda Moretti Ojemann, Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, Derek Bickerton, Susan Goldin-Meadow, John Palka, Elizabeth Loftus, Merle Prim, and Mark Sullivan. We are grateful to our more general readers who suffered through rough drafts and flagged the bumps in the road: they include Blanche Graubard, Agnes Calvin, David and Joan Ojemann, Daryl Hochman, Steven Ojemann, Ann-Elizabeth Ojemann, Eric K. Williams, Douglas W. vanderHoof, Diane Brown, Linda Castellani (to whom we owe the title of Chapter 3), Elaine Sweeney, Susan McCarthy, Betty Kamen, Albert Geiser, Randall Tinkerman, Patrizia DiLucchio, Richard Raucci, Lena M. Diethelm, and various fellow passengers on long airline flights.
      A Note for the Professionals: You may have wondered about how one patient managed to participate in so many different tests, or happened to personify the classic teaching-case features of complex partial seizures. That is because “Neil” is not merely a pseudonym but a composite (and should not be cited in the manner of a case report) of several temporal lobe epileptics who cannot be further identified, for all the usual reasons of patient confidentiality. He is a somewhat different composite than the “Neil” of our first book, Inside the Brain. We often “reconstructed” patients, usually by subtracting complications from the account of an actual patient but also by adding typical features not seen in that patient. Indeed, the only unaltered case report is one contributed by Dr. C: the alexia suffered by his father, the late Fred H. Calvin.
      Only the surgeons among the readership may have noticed our other literary liberty: the case of the disappearing resident. Dr. C was indeed the third pair of “sterile hands” on dozens of occasions, but he often observed that the second pair obstructed his view of the brain. The assistant surgeon was also “in the way” in a literary sense as we planned this book. Playwrights are always sending an actor offstage on some errand, leaving two actors remaining, so that dialogue is simplified; in a narrative, a three-way conversation is even more awkward than in a script. When we finally realized that Dr. C was going to have to serve as the sole narrator and report what Dr. O said, we decided to avoid the dialogue problems of including the resident in the conversations — and simultaneously promote the reader’s eyes and ears to having an unobstructed view. So we dispatch the resident on an errand in the first act, only to have her return in the Shakespearian manner near the end. Otherwise, the clinical cases and the O.R. details are within the range seen in contemporary neurosurgery.

Conversations with Neil's Brain:
The Neural Nature of Thought and Language
(Addison-Wesley, 1994), co-authored with my neurosurgeon colleague, George Ojemann. It's a tour of the human cerebral cortex, conducted from the operating room, and has been on the New Scientist bestseller list of science books. It is suitable for biology and cognitive neuroscience supplementary reading lists. ISBN 0-201-48337-8.
AVAILABILITY widespread (softcover, US$12).
Home Page || Science Surf magazine || Table of Contents || End Notes for this chapter || Continue to End Notes